For my upcoming trip to Australia I plan to do some snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Once again I am faced with the opportunity(?) to buy some more camera equipment to take some underwater photos and video. Nikon do sell an underwater case for my Nikon 1 J3 however the case costs $400 and I would rather not risk my good camera if the case happens to leak. The other option is a small action camera like the GoPro series. These cost at a minimum $150+ so again I don’t want to invest too much since I rarely snorkel these days. Fortunately the Chinese are known for making cheap knock-offs of the GoPro with similar enough quality for my purposes. The particular knockoff I settled on made by Aokon is the SJ7000 1080p 12M action camera.
This particular model came in a kit that included two batteries, an underwater case, a dozen mounts and numerous tethers and attachment straps.
For my upcoming trip I only really needed the waterproof case and a selfie stick mount, but I could easily use the other attachments in the event I go hiking or biking in the future.The kit doesn’t come with a microSDHC memory card but this can be easily bought for not much money.
The SJ7000 is pretty straight forward to use. Without going into too much depth on all of the features there is a power button on the front, a shutter button on top and two buttons on the right side. Hold down the power button on the front to turn the camera on or off. Short press the power button when the camera is on to change the camera mode.
- Video Mode – The first mode is video mode. Press the shutter button to start recording and again to stop. Hold down the upper side button to zoom in or the lower side button to zoom out. Short pressing the upper side button enables WiFi mode.*
- Photo Mode – The second mode is photo mode. Press the shutter button to take a photo. Hold down the upper side button to zoom in or the lower side button to zoom out.
- Playback Mode – The third mode is the playback mode where you can review the photos and videos you have taken. Press the shutter button to playback videos. Press the side buttons to cycle through the videos/photos.
- Settings – The final mode is the settings where you can make changes to the video or photo resolution and other advanced settings like ISO, anti-shake and WiFi.
* The WiFi mode allows your camera to connect to and be remotely controlled by your smartphone. Your smartphone connects to the WiFi access point enabled on your camera and uses an app to control the camera remotely. Rather than use the recommended SJCAM app, most users prefer to use the much better FinalCam app.
The battery is reported to work continuously for about 40-60 minutes and a 32GB memory card can record about 6 hours of 1080P video.
Just prior to making my purchase I did some research on using GoPro-type cameras while snorkeling to see if I needed to buy any additional equipment. I found a good resource in Mic Bergsma’s YouTube channel. The four videos that helped the most had to do with:
Need Filter for Snorkeling / Shallow Water? – GoPro Tip #504 – When and why to use a red filter to bring out the natural color of underwater objects. I decided to purchase a red filter as a result.
How To Film Steady Underwater – GoPro Tip #300 – This video demonstrated the advantage of using a pole to get steady video footage. Rather than choosing the floating GoPole used in the video I settled on an aluminum waterproof selfie-stick. While it can’t float I would be using the wrist strap to prevent losing my camera. It is also extendable so I could use it for activities other than snorkeling.
How To Avoid Water Spots On Lens – GoPro Tip #120 – How licking the lens helps prevent water spots from building up.
Easiest DIY GoPro Anti-Fog Inserts – Not from Mic Bergsma’s channel but cheap way to make anti-fog inserts to prevent the waterproof camera case from fogging up inside when going from warm air to cooler water.
The cost breaks down as follows:
- Aokon SJ7000 – $65
- SanDisk Ultra 32GB microSDHC Card – $12
- ANDEX 19” Waterproof Hand Grip Adjustable Extension Selfie Stick – $14
- TANSUO Snorkel Red Filter – $10
- Total $100
So for $100 I had a decent underwater camera setup. The complete underwater rig can be seen below. I attached the red filter to the selfie stick with a bit of rubber string.
There were no underwater field tests this time around mainly due to the fact that as a Bermudian I don’t go swimming outside of May 24 to Labour Day. I could have tested the camera in a bucket of water but that would have been simply to test the water seals on the waterproof case.
Even though it was June, this is Australia’s winter so the Great Barrier Reef wasn’t exactly calm. Traveling to the reef was particularly rough with a number of other passengers getting seasick along the way. On the reef itself was slightly more calm than the open sea but the reef edges were still very rough which may have lead to the cancellation of some of our stops like the Wonderwall. I didn’t go over at the first stop instead waiting until we reached Upolu Cay, a small crest of sand that becomes exposed at low tide. A group of us jumped onto a small skiff and were dropped off on the sand. This was the first time I have snorkeled using fins so wading into 4 feet of water and trying to put on fins in the rough surf was a challenge. In hindsight I should have placed the red filter over my camera lens before entering the water as I ended up trapping water and air bubbles in it when doing it after the fact. I removed it as a result and ultimately it was unnecessary as the water depth never exceeded about 15 feet. A compilation of my video footage can be seen below.
The Chinese GoPro knockoffs are adequate cameras for underwater video and photos if you are looking to save money. The 1080p video was sufficiently good quality-wise for some clear underwater video footage. I did notice some glare in the upper left hand corner of my shots as the sun reflected off the side of my case.A number of other passengers also had knockoffs and one even had the almost exact same rig as me. I forgot to add paper to the inside of my case but I didn’t have an issue with the interior fogging up. This may have been due to the cooler temperatures during the Australian winter. The air temperature was not much different from the water temperature (both around 75 F). I also never had to do the lick the lens technique (lol).